Home & Garden

Floor-covering choices are more varied and affordable than ever

Builders are turning to many natural flooring materials, such as cork tiles, to create different looks. (BOB PEPPING/CONTRA COSTA TIMES/MCT)
Builders are turning to many natural flooring materials, such as cork tiles, to create different looks. (BOB PEPPING/CONTRA COSTA TIMES/MCT) MCT

It used to be that if you wanted something other than carpet to cover your floors, the choices were pretty straightforward: wood, tile or linoleum.

Not anymore. Flooring options offer more diversity than ever — and lower prices — as people discover a forest of various woods and wood products, and alternatives including laminates, rubber and concrete.

Here's a look at the choices (prices are per square foot):

Hardwood

The skinny: Classic look comes in many options beyond oak and maple, including wide planks, hand-scraped and exotic woods.

Price: $4 and up, plus installation

Pros: Lasts a lifetime. Can be sanded and refinished; easy to clean; warm and comfortable underfoot

Cons: Expensive to install; subject to water stains

Bamboo

The skinny: Bamboo is a grass, and it adds an exotic flair in "green" designs.

Price: $4 and up, plus installation

Pros: Lighter colors are stronger. Sustainable; warm underfoot; unique look

Cons: Softer than most hardwoods; it can be sensitive to humidity and temperature changes. Easily damaged by heavy furniture or high heels. Quality varies widely.

Reclaimed

The skinny: Often recycled from gymnasium floors or wood from demolished buildings or wine barrels.

Price: $15 and up, plus installation

Pros: Every floor has a back story and often looks one of a kind. It has built-in character.

Cons: Very expensive to install and cannot be refinished; reclaimed gym floors tend to be thin.

Laminate

The skinny: A do-it-yourself favorite, this uses photos of other products (such as wood grain or tile) laminated to a fiberboard base, then sealed.

Price: $2 and up

Pros: Looks like wood, tile or ceramic for less money; easy to install and maintain; somewhat stain-resistant

Cons: Cannot be refinished; less expensive laminates might sound hollow; avoid those that contain f ormaldehyde adhesives.

Engineered hardwood

The skinny: Thin slices of real wood are adhered to fiberboard or plywood base, then sealed.

Price: $4 and up, plus installation

Pros: A hardwood look for less; can be used over concrete subfloor; can be stronger than solid hardwood; easy to install

Cons: Some varieties can't be refinished. Adhesives might release volatile organic compounds.

Cork

The skinny: Natural material is springy and makes a room warm and comfortable.

Price: $5 and up, plus installation

Pros: Warm and soft underfoot; hypoallergenic; resists mold and mildew; is great for standing on for long periods.

Cons: Never use a wet mop. Can be damaged by heavy furniture and discolored by direct sun.

Tile

The skinny: Alternative to stone with many of the same qualities. Made of natural clay and quartz. Ceramic is most popular; glazed, more durable. Porcelain is more refined and denser. Unglazed tile is porous and needs sealing.

Price: $8 and up, installed

Pros: Water-resistant; can look elegant or informal; durable

Cons: Can crack or chip; hard, slippery and noisy; feels cold underfoot

Stone

The skinny: It's classic and natural.

Price: $15 and up, installed

Pros: Looks elegant; durable; adds to home's value

Cons: Requires professional installation; slippery, cold and hard underfoot; needs resealing; can stain and chip

Rubber

The skinny: Often made from recycled material, it's springy. Great for wheelchairs.

Price: $2 and up, plus installation

Pros: Durable; water- and slip-resistant; hypoallergenic; easy to maintain

Cons: Tiles made from recycled tires might have an odor. Limited colors.

Linoleum

The skinny: Natural, made from linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone and natural pigments; it's making a comeback, particularly in renovations of older homes.

Price: $3 and up, plus installation

Pros: Wide variety of colors and patterns; durable; biodegradable; warm and soft underfoot; easy to clean

Cons: New linoleum has a strange scent. Needs to be regularly resealed.

Vinyl

The skinny: Popular for its low cost and easy maintenance, vinyl has been a kitchen and bathroom mainstay.

Price: $2 and up, plus installation

Pros: Many color and pattern options; warm and soft underfoot; doesn't require resealing; water-resistant; easy care.

Cons: Made of poly vinyl chloride, which carries environmental and health risks. Damaged tiles must be replaced.

Concrete

The skinny: Among the most popular new floor options, concrete can be tinted, stained, stamped, textured or etched to mimic stone.

Price: $15 and up, installed

Pros: Extremely durable; stone or glass can be imbedded for unique look; hypoallergenic; low maintenance; eco-friendly; cool in summer.

Cons: Very hard and cold underfoot; must be resealed every two years.

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